The next day Cameron sat across from Tess, her mouth stuck open as Tess finished her story. She dropped a long piece of wild grass she had been twirling around her finger. They were in a massive field outside the city, a place that gave them rare moments of peace and quiet.
“You saw him? You saw The Dark Hand?” Cameron asked, pushing her long blond hair out of her eyes. It was windy and there was a chill in the air. “How do you know?”
“It was him.”
“Did you hear they said he was an old man? He was a phony. He was just pretending to be strong and powerful.”
“What does it matter what he looked like?” Tess asked.
Cameron glanced down at the ground, her cheeks pink.
“Sonya wrote a post about it. She thinks he was a fraud…that he couldn’t change anything.”
“He couldn’t,” Tess said simply. “Which is why he died.”
Tess noticed Cameron eyeing the ragged scar that was a pink line across her face. She had seen it enough, though she was used to avoiding mirrors, that she could easily picture it at all times. It started at the bottom of her left ear, tracked across her cheek, went across the bridge of her nose, separated her right eyebrow and finished up near her temple.
Cameron tried too late to avert her eyes when she saw that Tess had noticed. Her cheeks flushed pink again and she looked away, further out into the grass field. It was brown and dying, but it was the closest to nature that they could get.
“You should get going,” Cameron said. “I don’t want to see you locked out again.”
When Tess smiled, she could feel her scar tighten up.
Tess also knew that it was dangerous for Cameron to hang around her, especially after the accident, but she had been doing it for years. Cameron was one of her only friends and they had been close since before the whole ordeal.
The crash had happened when Tess was ten. She couldn’t remember exactly what had occurred that night, but when she woke up it felt like her face was on fire and she was missing her right hand. With no money to buy a prosthetic, like most people could afford to do, it was just capped off with the standard metal covering, and her sleeve was tied in a knot over it. She had learned to do everything left handed, but never returned to school.
Cameron, on the other hand, had all the money she would need. It just made Tess feel like a charity case.
Tess pushed herself up and started back toward the city with Cameron. They parted ways when they reached one of the main roads, where Tess headed to the group home. At eighteen, she wouldn’t be allowed to stay much longer. She was running out of options.
Before she reached the slums, the city was bright and alive with color. Flashing billboards were plastered all over every free wall, filled with images of beautiful young men and women with perfect complexions and straight white teeth. Even all around her, the people walking by were unreal. Whatever plastic surgery money could buy, both men and women flocked to it. Tess stuck out like a sore thumb.
She fit in a bit more once she reached the neighborhood outside of the city where the group home was. There were fewer lights and big buildings, but more trash and junkies hanging around in the alleyways. She hurried to her run-down home and buzzed herself in. Once inside, she scanned in at the front desk and headed up the stairs to her room.
There were dozens of packed rooms in the building. Tess shared hers with a few other teens, but she wasn’t really close with any of them. She worked alone during the nighttime and tried to sleep a few hours during the day. Since she had just witnessed the death of The Dark Hand, she didn’t have time to scavenge that night. It was unsafe anyway, with all the cops roaming the city. She would just have to try the next night.
Tess pulled herself into her rickety cot and covered her head with the itchy blanket. She could hear all the crying babies from the first floor and the moaning junkies from the floor above, but she eventually fell asleep. All the sounds were beginning to feel like her own personal lullaby.
The next morning, there was a government lockdown. The lockdowns weren’t too rare, considering there was always someone the police were after, and she was sure it had something to do with The Dark Hand. They still had no idea who had killed him or if he was the actual person they had been looking for, but the police were quick to assume that he was.
Tess took an unwanted cold shower and combed out her shoulder length black hair. She felt a little better as she finished up and headed downstairs to grab some lunch. There wasn’t much to choose from due to the lockdown, but she was able to get half a sandwich and a can of soda.
The lockdown lasted a few hours into the afternoon and once it ended, Tess headed out immediately. The sun was setting and she wanted to make sure she would have a full night of scavenging.
As she started down the sidewalk, she heard someone running after her. It was Greg, a boy she had seen around the group home. As usual, his eyes went to her scar first before he seemed to remember why he had stopped her.
“Can I join you?” He asked.
“No. I’m headed to work,” Tess replied.
She started to walk away, but he grabbed her arm gently.
“Where do you work?”
“Just around. I do some odd jobs for people.”
“Pretty handy, eh?” Greg asked. His eyes went wide when Tess raised her absent hand.
Tess turned away from him, but he desperately ran to keep up.
“I didn’t mean to insult you. I honestly didn’t know. I didn't notice.” Greg paused, noticing her look of disbelief. “Well, besides your face. Your scar, I mean.”
Shocked, Tess shook her head.
“I’m sorry. You can’t join me,” Tess insisted. She watched as Greg went over to the wall of the building next to them and tapped on the glass three times. Tess knew what that meant. “Do you know what you’re saying?”
“I asked if I could join you. Three knocks.” Greg folded his arms over his chest. He looked strong and tall for his age, so she believed he could be a scavenger. “I need to make money.”
After a moment, Tess nodded. She motioned for him to come along and they walked the rest of the way in silence. Greg didn’t say anything until they were close to the landfill.
“So, how do you do everything without your hand?”
Tess raised her left hand and wiggled her fingers.
“That’s why we have two. In case we lose one,” Tess replied.
Greg smiled. He was missing a few front teeth and the rest were nearly rotted out. Tess suddenly felt lucky that she hadn’t been poor her entire life. Rotten teeth would most likely kill Greg in the future.
“But really." He started again. “It must be hard. It doesn’t make sense to me. You should save for a prosthetic one. They’re expensive, but they work just like regular hands. They’re pretty standard nowadays.”
Tess paused and turned to face him.
“I don’t want to talk about my hand,” Tess said. “So, please…shut up.”
Greg nodded, suddenly serious. He kept his mouth shut as they turned into the alleyway. Tess made sure everything was clear.
They waited in the alleyway until it was dark and then Tess pulled a flashlight out of her pocket. It was small and fit in her palm, but it would get the job done. She signaled to Greg to wait behind her.
The landfill was eerily quiet, except for the sound of Greg’s footsteps adjacent to her, but she figured people were still scared to come out of hiding after the lockdown. Ahead of them was a huge mountain of recently deposited trash ready for scavenging. Greg eyed it and then turned to her smiling.
He snapped his fingers once.
Tess nodded. She knew that meant Greg thought it would be a good idea to separate, so she headed to the left of the pile. Greg disappeared to the right.
The first hour of her search brought absolutely nothing. All Tess could find was rotten food and useless garbage. She wondered if people were just becoming too poor to throw out anything of value. Tess made her way around the pile in search of Greg, but she couldn’t find him. She could, however, hear a few muffled voiced in the distance.
“Are you alone?” She heard. It was a man’s stern voice, one that could only belong to a police officer. “Tell me!”
Tess pressed her body as close to the pile as she could and held her breath. She couldn’t get in trouble again because she couldn’t afford the fines. If she got in trouble again, she might face jail time.
Greg made a noise, but Tess couldn’t make out what he was saying.
“Alright, take him in. He’s working alone.”
Tess was about to breathe a sigh a relief until Greg spoke up loudly.
“Her name is Tess. She’s only got one hand. She’s behind the pile,” Greg said.
There was a shuffle of feet when Tess took off. She was out in the open, but running was her only option. She didn’t make it far before the cop could fire his weapon—a paralyzing agent. Her legs were numb by the time the cop reached her.
She wanted to scream when he lifted her up and threw her over his shoulder. He sighed.
“It’s always better if you give yourself up, kid. There’s no use running.”
They hauled Tess back over to where Greg was and they handcuffed them both. Greg smiled at her as she hung upside down over the cop’s shoulder, her black hair obscuring her view.
“You can shut up now, Tess,” Greg said.